by Robert A. Waters
Seventy-five years later, the mystery still fascinates. What happened to Amelia Earhart?
A new expedition is headed to Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro) to resume previous searches for evidence that she landed there after running out of fuel. The International Group for Historical Research (TIGHAR) will use underwater robots with multi-beam sonar to scan the reefs around the previously uninhabited coral atoll. Members of the group hope to find the remains of Earhart’s plane.
Several clues point to Gardner Island as the likely place Earhart and Fred Noonan went down on July 2, 1937. A series of Murphy’s Law-type mistakes had brought them there. The final, fatal error may have been Earhart’s unfamiliarity with (or damage to) her new direction-finding loop antenna. A radio crew on the U. S. Coast Guard ship Itasca was responsible for guiding her to Howland Island--unfortunately, they could hear Earhart’s messages, but she couldn’t hear theirs.
At 7:42 a.m., Earhart’s transmission came in loud and clear: “We must be on you, but cannot see you – but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” More than an hour later, at 8:43, Earhart radioed: “We are on the line 157/337.” Her transmissions soon faded, and the aviatrix vanished into the fog of history.
The evidence that she and Noonan may have landed on or near Gardner Island is not compelling yet, but certainly hopeful. Jeremy Hsu, of Innovation News Daily, wrote: “Several expeditions [have] uncovered items that could have belonged to Earhart, along with signs of survival living. Such items include a jar that likely contained Dr. Berry's Freckle Ointment (Earhart was known for disliking her freckles), a hand lotion bottle marketed to women in the 1930s, and a bone-handled knife matching the description of a knife listed in Earhart's aircraft inventory.”
Possibly the most intriguing find is now lost. According to Hsu’s report, a team of researchers from TIGHAR “also dug up old paperwork from a British colonial physician who described human bones recovered from the island — bones that belonged to a woman fitting Amelia Earhart's profile, according to modern analysis.” Somehow, soon after the partial skeleton was sent to Fiji for analysis, it disappeared. This tantalizing find remains as lost as Earhart herself.
More recently, human bone fragments found on the island were tested for DNA, but came back inconclusive.
The theory that Earhart and Noonan crash-landed near Gardner Island will be put to the test beginning July 2nd when TIGHAR begins its search. New technology may finally put an end to this enduring mystery.
As with the sinking of the Titanic 25 years earlier, folk singers were quick to memorialize the tragedy.
Shortly after reading the news about Earhart’s lost flight, Texas singer Red River Dave wrote a song entitled Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight. The ballad soon became a country music standard, and is still played and recorded. It is thought to have been the first song ever performed on a live television broadcast when Dave sang it during the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
AMELIA EARHART'S LAST FLIGHT
Red River Dave (McEnery)
A ship out on the ocean, just a speck against the sky,
Amelia Earhart flying that sad day;
With her partner, Captain Noonan, on the second of July,
Her plane fell in the ocean, far away.
CHORUS: There's a beautiful, beautiful field
Far away in a land that is fair.
Happy landings to you, Amelia Earhart,
Farewell, first lady of the air.
Well, half an hour later, an SOS was heard,
The signal weak, but still her voice was brave.
In shark-infested waters, her plane went down that night,
In the blue Pacific to a watery grave.
Now you have heard my story of that awful tragedy.
We pray that she might fly home safe again.
In years to come though others blaze a trail across the sea,
We'll ne'er forget Amelia and her plane.